digital divide

Is the digital divide entirely different from what we think it is?

Interestingly, closing the digital divide within classrooms may have more to do with digital citizenship than hardware.

For a while now, there’s been a great deal of concern over the digital divide—the gap between students who have easy access to technology and those who don’t. Most debates center on choosing the best classroom hardware to bridge the gap: ‘Should we try to get a laptop on every desk? Tablets? Two-in-ones?’ However, the hardware debate obscures a deeper issue. It doesn’t matter what kind of technology a student uses, so much as what the student is encouraged to do with it.

The subtler, but no less harmful, digital divide is between the students who are empowered to be creators and problem solvers with technology, and those who aren’t.

The Most Important Tool is a Skill, Not a Tablet

Since students today live in a digital world, digital citizenship is one of the most important lessons schools can teach. Online behavior—social pressure, harassment, bullying—is a big issue with a real-world impact.

Good digital citizens know how to protect themselves (and their personal information), how to protect others, and how to behave civilly in online discourse. These are all things that we’ve taught students to do face-to-face in schools for years. But now schools need to extend these lessons into the digital space.

One of the best ways to teach digital citizenship—or better, to encourage—students to be good digital citizens is to help them become digital creators. We do not expect students to learn courtesy by reading etiquette manuals; we teach them by exposing them to real-world situations and helping them to correct their mistakes. Young people should not be unleashed unsupervised into a digital environment without preparation, any more than we expect to drop them off at their first birthday party with no adult supervision. They have to be taught to create speech in a digital space just like in a physical one.

(Next page: More student skills to close the digital divide)

Digital Skills via Creation

Similarly, students need to be given the tools to tell the difference between fact and opinion. Today, we have a crisis of authority. Anyone can put something up on YouTube and far too many people treat it with the weight of a peer reviewed journal article.

We’ve been teaching students how to tell truth versus opinion in written texts, yet video has a way of bypassing some of those defenses. The very qualities—immediacy, visual impact, emotional engagement—that make video an incredibly powerful communication tool also make it a potential propaganda weapon. We need to give students the ability to step back and think critically about video.

The only way to help students determine multimedia quality effectively is to teach them to be video creators—removing some of the magic by showing them how they, too, can manipulate video can help students gain necessary distance.

For instance, when students are mere consumers (whether the medium is digital or not), they’re in a passive mode, and that’s not what we want education to be. The only way to truly understand the medium being consumed is if the viewer is no longer just a consumer.

Digital critical thought and discussion around digital objects is going to happen largely in a digital world. To participate, students will need to be digital creators. Here is where the real gap comes into play. In the world we’re building now, the difference will be ‘are you a creator who actively participates in the world, or are you a consumer?’

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